record vs. cd quality

I’ve always assumed that CDs, having displaced records as the dominant music format, are of a better quality. But I think I’ve read somewhere that records, if in excellent condition, are better, and my friend is pretty passionate about that. So, whats the straight dope?


One of those eternal debates where one camp will never convince or be convinced by the other.
Certainly, a well engineered and manufactured vinyl disc played on equally well engineered and manufactured equipment is capable of producing sublime results but because of the differences in analogue v. digital recording techniques and the biasing and compression/expansion needed for analogue reproduction it is virtually impossible to accurately compare the output of the two.
They won’t sound the same but who can say definitively that one is superior to the other.

What sold me on CDs back in the 80s was the fact that they require much less storage space and they don’t wear out. Since the stylus of a turntable actually touches the record, no matter how carefully you store and care for it, it will wear out.

Why do you say it is impossible to compare the two? Just compare the output wave forms. It should be relatively easy to find out which one is more accurately reproducing the sound.

Here’s 2004’s take on CD’s:
Do Compact Disks have the capability to reproduce sound perfectly?

CDs have a better dynamic range (the difference between the quietest sound you can hear and the loudest sound you can hear on the same system).

CDs have a flatter frequency response over the range of frequencies that they can accurately reproduce.

CDs are not plagued by wow and flutter effects that affect turntables.

CDs don’t get damaged as they play.

CDs much more accurately reproduce sounds in the normal human hearing range.

Records reproduce higher frequency sounds (like that of a picallo) better. However, only a small portion of humans are capable of hearing the difference.

CDs aren’t affected by static pops and clicks.

CDs aren’t affected by “turntable rumble”.

CDs have less analog circuitry in them, which means that they have less analog circuit noise induced into their signals.

CDs don’t have to amplify as small of a signal as records do, which means other noise sources inherent in small signal amplification don’t affect CDs either.

And on what do you record the control waveform to which you compare the two?

You can measure distortion of a known signal, such as a sine wave, without having access to the original signal.

Both the CDs and records are made from master recorings use those.

But a comparison of a sine wave is useless. To determine which is better, we must compare a full range of musical sounds, which are much more complex than sine waves. A sine wave doesn’t even have harmonic overtones.

The master recordings for vinyl records were made from really good quality records. The master recordings for CDs are usually made on digital tape with similar or better sampling rates than CDs. These two sources are incomperable.

In the case of the odd item that still gets released on vinyl, the records are pressed from the digital master, and there probably is no original analog recording.

And also high-quality analog tapes.

There are all manor of test signals that can be put in. Ranging from high quality analog tape recordings if you don’t beleive in all the theory about signal processing from the last 100 years to a variety of complex synthesized waveforms. Heck you could make a record and a CD straight from both a test record and a test cd and determine if records or CDs had better fidelity.

It all depends on what is meant by “better”. Better could mean “having a more pleasing sound”. Better could mean “more accurately reproducing the original sound”

Don’t be fooled into thinking they’re the same thing, either, or that one version is inherently correct. We’re not reproducing a waveform for a science experiment, we’re listening to music for personal enjoyment.

As E_C_G has posted, CDs definitely have better stats, and should more faithfully reproduce the original signal, and for much less money. However, that doesn’t change the fact that many people prefer the sound of vinyl based systems.

There’s also the possibility that you’re measuring with a micrometer, then cutting with a chainsaw. That is, while CDs may be technically better, the downstream components introduce far more distortion than the vinyl, so the choice of media is irrelevant. I find that speaker choice has a lot more to do with the overall sound quality than the media.

Given that even further-compressed digital music (mp3s, etc.) are rapidly displacing CDs, it appears that the market moves in the opposite direction (to some extent).

Also, it’s certainly possible to use a laser to read a record now (if you’re willing to shell out the big bucks), so you could remove some of the problems with records. Does anyone know if those laser turntables actually sample with higher resolution than CD audio?

My opinion on this is that better is more accurately reproducing the sound. All pleasing aspects to the sound should be put in there by the artist and recording people.

I have been an audiophile most of my adult life and I have never understood this discussion. The very first time I played a CD it was like a religious experience. You hit the play button, and Wham! Out came perfect, utterly flawless sound.

And that is exactly what it is supposed to be.

All these things vinyl affectionados refer to as “warmth” or “tone” are better known as “artifacts” induced by an incredibly imperfect analog sound reproduction system (i.e. dragging a rock across bumpy plastic).

And Picard was better than Kirk. And Joel was better than Mike.

Say what you will about the sound of a CD…but album cover art on CD’s will never, ever match their 12" vinyl predecessors.

I like the crisp, clean perfection of CDs, although a poorly engineered CD (and there were quite a few of those in the early days of the technology) could be grating. There are a few tough calls out there, though. One of my all-time favorite albums is XTC’s English Settlement. ES, a double album, was originally issued on three audiophile-quality vinyl LPs (with fatter grooves than the norm, only three or four songs per side). That sounded really great, even better than the first CD release of the album on Virgin. Eventually, though, ES was reissued on CD with a limited-ed. Japanese digital remaster, and for most of us that’ll probably stand as the final, best version – especially as the vinyl grooves wear out, needles grow dull, and the companies that make high-end needles and cartridges go out of business…

Can we at least agree that anything – even a cassette tape which has baked in a hot car for three consecutive summers – sounds better than MP3 files? I’ve just been baffled that the same world that raised such a fuss over sound quality when CDs came out conceded much, much worse, with barely a whimper, after the advent of the MP3 file.


You really can’t say that mp3 files sound better or worse becuase there is such a huge range of bit rates. You can compress files to the point that everyone will agree they sound like crap. But you can get files that I defy you to find people that can tell the difference between the CD and the mp3 file in a double blind test.